No matter what kind of job you have, it isn’t that uncommon to deal with burnout at some point. If you’re a nurse, though, the chances of experiencing burnout are a good bit higher than average. As many as 84% of nurses report feeling burned out, according to recent data – but the American Nurses Association (ANA) is trying to bring that number down.
In partnership with SE Healthcare, the ANA is spearheading the Burnout Prevention Enrichment Center, a free online platform that’s dedicated to preventing career burnout. So far over 5,000 nurses have signed up for the program. In addition to helping nurses improve their personal well-being, the platform also provides learning materials that count towards required nursing CEU courses. The reference library focuses on scholarly peer-reviewed articles on evidence-based interventions, but there’s much more to the program than that. There’s also information on topics like “Building a Better Day Off” and “How to Reach Out to a Colleague in Distress”.
The whole point is to help nurses cope with the stresses of their jobs. The question is, would they benefit more from greater resilience, or from a change in their work environments? It’s likely that the second option would come closer to addressing the root cause of widespread burnout, but there’s no doubt that the first option is a more attainable goal.
What happens when a nurse experiences burnout?
Most of us have a general idea of what job-related burnout is, but it might actually be scarier than you think. It isn’t just being tired of showing up for work; it’s a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion because of work-related stress.
Nurses are especially vulnerable to this. They often have to work long or irregular hours, they care for patients who don’t always have positive outcomes, and are frequently faced with high-pressure situations. Understaffing is an issue faced by medical practices across the nation, which only makes the problem worse. And to top it all off, the pandemic added to the pressure that many nurses were already feeling.
Causes of burnout for nurses
While work-related burnout is generally caused by the same few factors, they tend to be intensified for nurses. Let’s take a look at why this happens:
- Long hours – The demand for nurses is bigger than the actual supply, which has led to pretty consistent understaffing. Even if there aren’t enough nurses, the work still has to be done somehow; this often results in nurses spending way over 40 hours a week at work. Even if it takes them a few years to reach the point of burnout because of how much they’re working, it happens to a lot of them eventually.
- Insufficient sleep – By the same token, many nurses don’t get enough sleep. With such long hours, it only makes sense that this would cut into time that could be spent resting. After a long day at work, most nurses can’t just go home and crash; there are still other things to do that take priority.
- Emotional strain – The nursing profession is full of compassionate people; unfortunately, not every patient ends up with a positive outcome. This can take a heavy emotional toll on nurses, which contributes directly to developing burnout.
- Stressful environment – Certain specialties come with a significant amount of stress. Intensive care units, for instance, often involve witnessing high mortality rates, making decisions under pressure, facing ethical dilemmas, or racing to save people with severe traumatic injuries. If someone’s in this environment day after day, it could be hard to maintain emotional distance from everything.
- Inadequate support – From a lack of teamwork to toxicity in the workplace, medical practices can be lacking in support for their employees just like any other place. Instead of collaboration with their co-workers, many nurses have to deal with conflict, communication issues, bullying, or lack of cooperation. As you might imagine, this also contributes to burnout.
- Not enough personal or family time – Even if the work environment is stressful, sometimes the things that happen outside the workplace can lessen the risk of burnout. A strong network of family or friends, for instance, can give an overworked nurse a haven of sorts that they can turn to whenever they’re overwhelmed at work. Without something like this to relieve the pressure, though, they’re at a much higher risk of burning out.
What are the consequences of widespread burnout among nurses?
For one thing, the nurses themselves will be miserable if they’re experiencing burnout. It’s often associated with feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion, cynicism, and depression. If they stay at their current jobs, they’ll be spending a large part of their time doing something that they now hate. If they leave, they’ll have to find a new job, and possibly a new career if they’re that fed up with the idea of nursing. There are ways to address burnout, but it’s still a hole that’s hard to climb out of.
For another thing, there are also implications for the patients under the nurses’ care. The optimum ratio of nurses to patients is 1:4; for every patient above that number, there’s a 7% increase in patient mortality. Nursing staffs that are stretched thin simply can’t provide adequate care for their patients, no matter how hard they try. There’s also an elevated risk of mistakes being made, which can lead to anything from patient discomfort to death in extreme cases.
Can nurses reverse burnout?
In many cases, it’s possible to both prevent and treat burnout. Here are the most common recommendations:
- Change your specialty if you’ve lost interest in what you’re currently doing
- Learn coping skills such as post-work relaxation routines, breathing exercises, or journaling
- Build support networks, both at work and with friends or family
- Maximize your days off and vacation days by focusing on yourself
Burnout in nurses is a tough issue, but steps are already being taken to address it. With increased awareness and concrete improvements wherever possible, we can hopefully make burnout less of a problem in the future.
Photo by Negative Space at Pexels
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